Cognitive Bias. The Confirmation Bias

Essay, 2015

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Cognitive Bias – The Confirmation Bias

The term ‘cognitive bias’, also known as ‘psychological bias’, was first mentioned by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman at the beginning of the 1970s. It describes a phenomenon which happens uncountable times a day within the human brain: making decisions and judging issues although facing various limitations, such as, information or time. By using a heuristic tool one reaches a satisfying conclusion (cf. Wilke and Mata, 2012, pp. 531)

The paper on hand focuses on the confirmation bias. An illustrative example is readily available from daily live as visible in the following scenario: Considering to change the electricity provider, one asks a friend for advice. The latter confronts us with the statement that company X is not reliable and their service people are unfriendly. Having received this input, and searching for more information on this specific company online, one’s mind is already preoccupied and will only pay attention to negative impressions and ignore all disconfirming, here positive, information about their offer. Although company X might be the most suitable provider, one will not choose it only due to the inherent bias influences. (cf. Bennett, 2014)

Other examples are found in the field of criminal law, where the extensive influence of the confirmation bias becomes apparent by impacting legal decisions. A famous case is known from the train bombing in Madrid on 11th March 2004, where a coordinated series of bombs exploded and killed 191 people. International investigators made reasoning based on a fingerprint traced on a bag containing detonating devices. A number of independent fingerprint examiner assigned this evidence to Mayfield who has been on the watch-list after the 9/11 scenario. Mayfield was accused and arrested. He requested to have the fingerprint analyzed by the defense team examiner which revealed: Mayfield is innocent. An Algerian man was identified to be the actual owner of the ominous fingerprint. Here the confirmation lead to reasoning which decides over lives. The FBI listed confirmation bias as one of the misleading factors during the proceedings. The mere fact that Mayfield’s name was found on the watch list lead to erroneous conclusions. (cf. Kassin et al., 2013)

When it comes to business, interpreting statistics is largely affected by the confirmation bias process, which had been confirmed in a 2013 published study by Kahan et al. (2013, pp. 15). A study by Ohio state in 2009 shows that even the time for reading essays is influenced by whether one agrees with the authors opinion or not. (cf. McRaney 2012, pp. 9)

The above described phenomenon can be defined as follows: A usually strong hypothesis accompanied with a complexity of the focused matter and a certain ambiguity about the same, constitute the confirmation bias. It is also known as the ‘myside’ bias. First theories about this specific bias have been published by Peter Wason in the 1960s. (cf. Jones and Sugden 2001, pp. 59-61 and 73) Beneath laboratory, also numerous real-world situations certify the existence of confirmation bias (cf. Christandl and Fetchenhauer, 2010, p. 132) within humans’ minds. This cognitive distortion relates to the way humans seek, interpret and recall information. It is used numerous times a day without consciousness and can be equaled to an internally automatic force. (cf. Kassin et al. 2013, p. 44) The confirmation bias leads to overvaluing data approving an initial assumption or belief. Even if those information does not provide any added value, it will be used as a positive evidence to match the person’s inner idea about a certain matter. Consequently, information incongruent with inner beliefs is minimized or even neglected. However, people still assume their thinking patterns would be based on rationality and prior experiences rather than selective information reception and unconscious filtering. This all goes in-line with the humans’ inner desire to be correct in the way they evaluate the world (cf. McRaney 2012, p.9) Hence, the confirmation bias existence possesses a remarkable significance in the daily live. Even profound live stances can be explained by the confirmation bias. Examples are the rooted beliefs of people, e.g. in terms of politics, religion or gender roles (cf. Christandl and Fetchenhauer, 2010 p. 132).

To overcome the confirmation bias, it is critically to first become aware of the existence and the way it influences thinking and behavior patterns. After this essential step, people may actively search for disconfirming information to get a broader view on topics. Seeking discussions with people who are not like-minded helps to ease the thinking barriers. Keeping up-to-date on news and innovations can positively impact the way one sees the world. Realizing that there is not the ‘one truth’ is indispensable. Trying out new activities and staying open-minded will further avoid one-sided reasoning.

In my opinion the confirmation bias can be found in nearly every aspect of our daily lives and many people are completely unaware of the consequences it entails. Looking back, I have found myself several times jumping to conclusions without considering the contra arguments. I belief that the confirmation bias helps us to order the vast amount of information we are facing daily and allows to find a solution which seems to be suitable for oneself - at least in that very moment.


Bennett, B., (2014): Video: Confirmation bias, URL: (last online access 15 November 2015).

Christandl, F.; Fetchenhauer, D.; Hoelzl, E. (2010): Price perception and confirmation bias in the context of a VAT increase, in Journal of Economic Psychology, URL: (last online access: 15 November 2015).

Jones, M.; Sugden, R. (2001): Positive confirmation bias in the acquisition of information, in Theory and Decision, February 2001, Volume 50, Issue 1, pp 59-99, URL: (last online access: 31 November 2015).

Kahan, D.M., Peters, E., Cantrell Dawason,E., Slovic, P.(2013): Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government, Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 307, URL: (last online access 15 November 2015).

Kassin, S.M.; Dror, I.E.; Kukucka, J. (2013): The forensic confirmation bias: Problems, perspectives, and proposed solutions, in Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition 2 (2013) 42-52, URL: (last online access 15 November 2015).

McRaney, D. (2012): You are not so smart. Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, Why You Have Too Many Friends On Facebook And 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself.

Wilke A., Mata R. (2012) Cognitive Bias. In: V.S. Ramachandran (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, vol. 1, pp. 531-535. Academic Press.


Excerpt out of 4 pages


Cognitive Bias. The Confirmation Bias
Kozminski University
Principles of Psychology
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ISBN (eBook)
Principles of Psychology, confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, cognitive bias, heuristic tool
Quote paper
Lisa-Marie Langfeld (Author), 2015, Cognitive Bias. The Confirmation Bias, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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